Benjamin Morse Family & the Dreaded Typhoid
Updated: Mar 4, 2022
Benjamin Morse (1806-1864) and Family
Benjamin Morse was born in South Dedham on November 7, 1806. His parents were Seth Morse (1780-1853) and Irene Rhoads Morse (1781-1833). Irene was the daughter of Eliphalet Rhoads and Mercy Holland Rhoads, also of South Dedham. Benjamin had one sister, Julia Ann Morse.
Benjamin became a currier, working in the leather trade. Beginning in 1833, he was a member of Washington No. 7 volunteer fire station, located on Washington Street (near today’s St. Catherine’s school hall). On October 11, 1829, he married Sybil Lewis (1808-1862) in Dedham. Sybil was the daughter of Joseph Lewis and Sybil Morse Lewis. Benjamin and Sybil had six children. Benjamin Morse died on July 28, 1864 of a liver complaint. He was 57. His death may have been caused by typhoid fever, however, as the family seemed to be plagued by the disease.
Sybil Morse died of typhoid fever on January 1, 1862 at 52 and, in December of that year, daughter Ella died of the same disease. She was only 9 years old.
Typhoid fever is an acute illness caused by Salmonella Typhi bacteria which is transmitted to humans by drinking or eating contaminated food or water. Once the bacteria reach the bloodstream, it is carried to different organs including liver, spleen, gall bladder, lungs, kidneys and the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms include high fever, headache, and diarrhea (which can, in turn, spread contamination further).
In 1900, almost 40 years after the deaths of Benjamin, Sybil, and Ella Morse, there was a severe outbreak of typhoid fever in Norwood. 44 people contracted the disease (there had been only 7 cases each during the previous 2 years). At the end of 1899, the Board of Health had investigated 7 cases and found that the source of the infection was a local dairy farm where milk had been put into cans and lowered into a well for the purpose of cooling (a common practice). The well was examined and found to be “seriously polluted.” Its location with relation to barn cellars, outhouses, and sink drains was suspected as the cause of the contamination. The owner “was not easily convinced,” however, and the epidemic of 1900 began shortly after he began using the well again. Fortunately, there were no deaths associated with the outbreak. The State Department of Health agreed that the infection came from the leakage of contaminated water into the cans, or the absorption of the water through the stopper. The well was filled in.